After she recovered from surgery, she started hooking up with dudes from The Toad. They never guessed what was up, though once a mystified coke-addled guy said, Why are you so tight? Why are you so tight? Oh my God, are you a hermaphrodite? She acted haughty. She shrieked God, no!!! Why would you say something like that! It worked. Most of them though, she marveled at their obliviousness. She wondered if it was bad lighting? Drunkenness. Who knows.
In reality, she passed nearly a hundred percent of the time, but she didn’t get it. Only once every five or six months would a stranger mispronoun her or say something snide. But she didn’t get it, and she wouldn’t ever, and nothing short of a notarized letter from Janet Mock saying THIS IS HAPPENING would make her realize this.
A lot of girls were coming out in her city, which she’d just returned to after years on the coast. Some of the girls were having a rough time and some were having a rougher time. She found them at parties and the street and the Internet. She put girls up at her place now and then. She invited people over a lot. She lived alone for the first time, she wanted to make it a place girls could go, that was her hope. This is what she told herself was important.
She tried not to get too drunk around girls when she met them at a party or bar.
She volunteered at the local gay centre. She tried to make a fuss about stuff now and then but it was exhausting and she quit.
She tried to put together a nice adult life. Her hometown was cheap and she’d scored a manager job and the city had plays and movies and dances and sometimes she went to them. And for every night she went out hoping to fuck a dumb boy there were four nights she stayed home and read. There was a diner around the corner where she was a regular, the kind of diner that gentrification just worked too slowly in this flyover town to either steamroll or slowboil prices out of reason. She could afford to live on her own, an old place in West Broadway, and she could afford to do nice things like to a homey diner on the regular. It was nice. She thought to herself, God, this is nice.
On Canada Day she unlocked her bike and rode around the city with a flask of rye and it was kind of great. It was hot and everywhere there was gravel and dust and it was dirty and muggy and the wind that blew down was cool and swirled around her bike and clothes and the walls of old concrete. She biked through the most ancient district where there were fans in every window of every building that wasn’t empty. She biked west and there were men hanging out of every window in the back lanes. They hollered at her — but not in a nasty way. She waved as she biked and toasted them with her rye. By the time the sun set she was pleasantly tipsy. She climbed the fire escape stairs opposite a 19th century hotel discharging drunks and she watched them wheel around and wave below her and above watched the fireworks over the trees on the river. She loved the shit out of days like this, she really really did.
In the fall, she went back to the coast to visit the big cramped city where she transitioned, where Tall Girls were more on the radar. And right away she felt the repulsion on her like air, like bugs. She was swaying on the subway enormous and looming and a man reading a self-help book scanned her then pushed himself away to another spot. This large space opened up in front of her and when the next stop came nobody filled in even though the train was packed. Just an hour later she was walking to her friend’s house when a guy passed and said, Damn sweetheart can I get in on some of that pussy — she kept walking and he said, hey c’mere c’mere!! and she heard footsteps as she kept walking, she’s sure that’s what she heard, she hoped they’d eventually end or wouldn’t get louder and she got inside and nothing happened.
A couple of nights later a guy followed her and tried to kiss her. She said no, no, very gently and softly, she detected no malice from him. She smiled and said no and pushed him away. As she did his dick came out. He never managed to kiss her though.
She talked about all this to friends – except for the last thing. Her friends were kind, and they listened to her. But given her known capacity for dramatics, for booze — they did wonder. If there weren’t some of these stories that were kind of in her imagination. But they gave her sympathy, knew their praxis, buried their feelings and never said a disbelieving word.
Back home, she thought about quitting her job, which she completely hated. Her co-workers were boring and her boss was an asshole. Maybe she should just apply for welfare? Fuck it. Maybe. She knew trans women on welfare. But then she’d have to give up her apartment. That or eat ramen. She was thirty. She could maybe get another job? Maybe. The last time she’d tried to find something better, it was one of those once-every-five-months-not-passing times and the guy’s voice went up an octave in the interview when he realized. He didn’t say anything outright. His eyes just bounced for a second after the voice thing and the rest of the interview was short. It was an office gig for a company that made canes. She wore this flattering skirt suit — she thought it was flattering. She was super-qualified too. She didn’t get the job. Her friends told her there were other jobs in this city that would take her. Her friends were probably right. She didn’t look for another job.
Now and then, her mom called. She and her mom grew up together in the country three hours away, two clicks south of the Trans-Canada and far down a gravel road. Her mom was retired in the mountains now, on a teacher’s pension, and was always chirpy when she called. She’d say really nice things like Hello, my darling daughter!
Her darling daughter.
She knew how lucky she was. It hadn’t always been this way; she really did know how lucky she was. There was a short but formative time where all she wanted was her mother back and now she had her mother back. She knew how lucky she was. When they hung up she felt hated and stupid and ungrateful and she got drunk, always, and she didn’t know why. She would sit straight up in bed, delivering shot after shot into her body, getting the kind of drunk where she didn’t move, she just sat upright for over an hour, lifting the bottle and hardly feeling hammered even (or any better). More a settled stomach-folding cloud of anesthetic haze. She would become part of the bed, the bottle on the floor, pull after pull after pull without moving, feeling nothing.
Tonight, now, in winter, she stood in front of the mirror tottering around before heading to bed. She’d just brushed her teeth and after taking off her makeup her eyes followed a divot from her collarbone. It was just shallow and curved enough to hold the spill from a shot glass, a finger, a baby mouse. There were quiet regular moments like these where she found parts of her body beautiful. She put her hand over the divot, then over her chest.
Somewhere in her room was a picture of a young girl on blockers. It was from years and years ago, when Heath Ledger was on his first round of Oscar bait and Kathleen Hanna was still sweaty from her last MichFest. The picture came from a fretty alarmed article about trans children. Which sucked, but. The picture was lovely. The girl was wearing a dress, had a flower in her hair, and was — kind of amazingly for the time, she thinks — holding a baseball bat, ready to swing.
Like she’d seen her mother do when she was a kid, she had carefully cut out the picture from the magazine and put it on her wall. And then a week later put it in a box because she’d had a visitor and her guts squirmed at explaining why she had a strange little girl’s picture on her wall. She knew she still had the picture somewhere — she’d kept it for years. She looked through her closet but couldn’t find it.
She sat in a chair by her bed and thought. The caption had said the girl was nine. So the kid was probably graduating high school now. Maybe already had, if she’d remembered her age wrong.
She leaned forward in the chair. She thought of a generation of girls who might grow up strong and unbothered and untouched, healthy, beautiful, learned and full of love, who could fall onto adulthood knowing girlhood, girlhood in full, having the chance at normal kinds of pain, who would grow and grow and grow and grow and grow and grow and grow and grow and become oceans, gentle armies, thick with passed-down wisdom and love. She believed and took heart from that. She did.
She picked up her bottle. She was about to go to bed then saw a friend’s message filling the room with light so she sat down and opened it up.
I think a lot about the first time we met. You were wearing that tomato paisley dress and your hair was pulled high and hanging like a hook behind your neck. You were sitting next to me at The Toad, unusual right away. Other women usually weren’t there alone. I was coming out of my Post-Op-Gone-Wild period and you had ordered a vodka and diet 7-Up. I saw it in you right away, to know you was to know how you drank. I saw it in how you ordered and watched him pour and how your sips weren’t sips or gulps.
I said I liked your dress, and you said something nice about my eyeliner.
I said I got into a fight with it every day and today I was just lucky.
You said, without a beat: It can smell fear.
I said you were funny.
You said, I’m funny?
Your laugh was heaving and full, it sounded like you were choking.
Do you remember any of this?
You were one of the first girls in a long time who I didn’t guess was trans. You read me right away. Which. Whatever. Obviously.
Had you really never fucked someone the first day you met them? Before me? You alluded to it once; I found it strange. I know you were young, but you were also hot and funny and a drinker, and that’s just not a celibacy combo. Maybe that’s different for us? I dunno.
We straightened out the we’re-transsexuals thing; got into the stuff we get into. Your sister was nice, your mom shut you out, everyone else semi-tolerated your existence except for a kind uncle who lived in the West End. You got turned down for a lot of jobs but you eventually got a new one. You grew up in Winkler but you weren’t Menno —
— and I’m sorry, I wanted you to stop right away. I know that’s a jerk thing but I’d played too many rounds of show-your-scars. I hated that shit so much. Plus, trans girls of your generation, they never start with the bad stuff, the stuff they really need to talk about. It comes out later. And you were so young and sweet — I felt hopeless thinking of the inevitable rest of it.
But then, then, you said the first you’d heard of trans anyone was Laura Jane Grace, and her coming out made you realize you were a girl, and you were on the Klinic waiting list a month later and that wasn’t even two years ago and you were twenty-two now and oh my God it was so long ago you saw that Rolling Stone with “Rock Star Who Became A Woman” or whatever —
Seeing you in front of me, with your dress and tied-up hair, saying those words. It was so surreal. You know when that article came out, there was like a solid week where every weirdo trans dyke was talking about kids like you? It’s strange how much hope and love and expectation we put on you when by default we didn’t know any of you yet. So shortly after you mentioned Laura, I said, Ssshhh and put a finger on your lips and kissed you. That was the right thing to do, obviously. But I wasn’t in lust, and I wasn’t won over: I just couldn’t hear you talk anymore.
Queers are the only group I know who dread their kids won’t grow up traumatized enough. But we did have great hope and love for you all too. And in that time I was trying my best. For a very long time, I’d thought I wanted to work for My Community and stuff but in practice I just showed up to the odd event and self-destructed. It was a little different by the time we met. I’m glad you showed up to the second picnic we had.
I wasn’t in the best shape when I met you but I was really giving it a go. Trying to keep myself together. I was calmer. I was quieter. I felt better. Surgery helped. I was mostly just going to work and going home. I don’t know if I appeared stable. But I felt it. I love what you always used to say: Whoever said alcoholics can’t be healthy without quitting just didn’t love drinking enough to figure out a way. Ha.
The night before we met, I’d had a long and awful Facebook convo with an old friend and then I had a bad dream. I dreamt my cousin had killed himself and in a note, he said he idolized me. I’m used to nightmares and I’m able to shake off bad dreams but that one was still bothering me when you sat down next to me at the bar.
I think it was the first bad night of winter too. I just remember when we opened the door to leave it was like the city was flying sideways through clouds. Yet going over the bridge and through The Exchange, I felt unabandoned and beautiful, walking with you, through those buildings, even though there was no one else around and the air was like needles.
It’s funny how we began to chase boys together after that first time. We would complain about boys, mack on boys, and still in the end go home fuzzy and fuck. You know that made me feel cis? The us-going-home part. Of all the things, I guess that’s weird. But I knew these two girls when I was younger who had that kind of relationship: basically straight, not in love — but took a limitless amount of comfort in each other and part of that comfort included sex. That’s how I ended up feeling about you.
Later on that first night you said you were this skinny because you realized if you could train your throat to talk like a girl, train your body to walk with its hips, train your face to stand electric shocks, it couldn’t be too hard to train your stomach to like the feeling of hunger. Later on in the month you told me you were raped, that you’d tried to kill yourself four times, how you tried to do it. And later in the month you brought out the before pictures from a deactivated profile and said, Look, look at that, look at that stupid dude!
Not a ton is different with me. I miss you. I’m glad we had the night we did before you went away. I find it so funny you’re in Ottawa. No one goes to Ottawa.
This morning I was trying to remember some hilarious thing you said to me at the Sherbrook once. I was telling a story at work and your words flipped out of focus and sort of static-buzzed away. My brain is like that lately, these blips of minutes here and there that just like, go missing — I guess I’m getting older. I wish I could remember what you said! I do remember this other thing, one morning when we were both too hungover to breathe. You said, Think of walking, as, like, sending weight falling in the right direction. I was lying on my floor last night and thinking about cockroaches and boric powder, how the roaches get coated with it and can’t shake it off and they literally start to disintegrate, their bodies come apart.
I always imagined you in a real city, one with suburbs and revitalized districts and good Mexican restaurants. I imagined you sharing a three-bedroom apartment with rich girls who don’t understand what you’re from, who have old and new meanings for cheap and use the new one like no one had ever extracted anything from the world before.
One night we were watching an episode of something — I never told you this — and you had fallen asleep. It was late. I sat up to go to the bathroom and felt a calming rush of power and lucidity surging into me. That kind of feeling, late in the night, when you’re getting less drunk but still definitely not sober. I looked at you breathing, you were asleep. I touched your cheek. Outside your window there were no stars, just a fuzzy glow of some random lights. I whispered with my fingers on your skin: Let no one hurt this woman again. I prayed it to the Lord too, which I hope you don’t mind. It sounded right to do and it sounded right to say. Your breath was even. I’m pretty sure you didn’t wake up. And you were so warm (your body was always so unbelievably warm). And there was laughing from the playground behind your building. I stood up and looked past the curtain and there were two women and a man, fucked up on something. It’s not fair to say this to you. You don’t know any of it happened.
I wonder what you thought when we privatized here? You must have heard. The Conservatives found something everybody could love and the church just doesn’t have the sway it used to. All the old LCs are ghost town s— it’s weird! A few have bigger Shoppers’ in them but most are empty. Well, the one on Osborne is a Panda Express. Meanwhile there’s a scuzzy hole selling ten-dollar mickeys on every block. Funny, eh? And the rents are going up. (Even here, I guess. It’ll happen everywhere. It will all happen everywhere.)
But I still live in West Broadway and I got the most gorgeous apartment last summer. You would have loved my building. My new place is on Good. It’s huge, on the third floor and has a sunroom and a bathroom with hexagon tiles. You would love it so much. My window’s open (I can finally smoke inside again) and it’s snowing but it’s actually not cold at all. New flakes are coming down, pretty American-style ones, fat and soft and quiet. It’s starting to cover up the mulched snow out on the lane. I finally realized the other day what it reminds me of: the chocolate dirt that gummy worms stick out of in candy store displays. City snow. Everyone thinks it’s gross but I think city snow is beautiful. Like you know you live somewhere. This is an unusual night.
I’m in my bed and the room is rotating but very softly and slowly. Do you remember when you first ever started to drink, like your brain didn’t know what was going on and the world Ferris Wheeled and it was like “Oh my God, what is happening to me?!” But now, it’s just so gentle and warm. It’s lovely. I feel so fond right now thinking of you. I feel warm but not hot or sweaty. I’m in my nightgown; I got a new one, shimmering red and embroidered with black lace. I feel perfect. It’s a good night. I’m glad I decided to write to you. Last night this girl posted that someone from a van had thrown a bottle at her on Sargent (that kind of thing’s been happening more around here lately) and she was hurt and really freaked out and like she was going to do something bad.
Like usual, I started to reply in the comment box. Then I stopped. I shut the laptop. Put it under the bed. And something in my heart unknotted and pulled loose. I felt still and at peace. I haven’t even opened it back up since then. It’s the best thing. It’s an incredible thing, to be free. I think about you all the time. Someone put an armchair out by the dumpster just a few minutes ago, and already it looks like it’s covered in feathers. Write me back, if you can. It’s really looking so lovely out here.